By Michael Howard
At the start of this new century, the world was rocked by the terrible events of 9/11. They ushered in a new age in foreign policy which will continue for many years to come. On that day international terrorism became the greatest threat to our way of life.
The war against it has only just begun. We are still finding our feet, sometimes faltering, sometimes successful. The battle lines are constantly fluctuating.
Today, I want to say something about what British foreign policy should be and how it can best be effectively and consistently implemented.
Under the present Government we have had no shortage of grand rhetoric. Its earliest manifestation – if you cast your mind back to those heady first days of New Labour – was the much vaunted “ethical foreign policy”.
Its contradictions were exposed very early on. Since then, the foreign policy of the Government has passed through many metamorphoses. The different parts have not always added up to a coherent whole. And even the Government’s strongest proponents would find it difficult to argue that its implementation and application have been entirely consistent. Perhaps complete consistency is too much to ask in the field of foreign policy. But it’s not too much to ask that a country’s government should have a clear and coherent view of its place in the world, of what it can and can’t achieve, and how its objectives can most effectively be realised.
A Conservative Foreign Policy
Let me, therefore, start by setting out the principles of the foreign policy which a Conservative Government would pursue.
Obviously our overriding objective would be to safeguard and advance the British national interest.
First and foremost comes the duty to protect our citizens. This objective cannot be too narrowly drawn. We no longer expect to be at the receiving end of a foreign military invasion. Today’s threats are less obvious. But they are no less dangerous and no less sinister. The most formidable is the threat posed by world terrorism. Later in the speech, I shall return to a discussion of this threat in the context of Iraq.
However, in this context, I want to talk about the changing nature of the threats facing us since the end of the Cold War. These have forced us all to look beyond the doctrine of Containment and Deterrence to the evolving doctrine of pre-emption. We live in a world where there have been and will again be times when the needs of international peace and security dictate that we cannot wait for the threat to be realised before dealing with it. There will be a continuing need for pre-emption. Sometimes as in
Iraq it will be military. On other occasions, for instance in the current case of
Iran and the very real threat of nuclear proliferation there, it can be diplomatic and political. I welcome the progress that has been made with Iran by the UK, France and Germany and hope that it can be put on a formal and sustainable footing.
There will also be opportunities for economic pre-emption. Humanitarian crises – those vortices of poverty and deprivation – may sometimes geographically seem a long way off. In the end they affect us all. None of us are untouched by their fall-out, both human and economic. There are many occasions when international economic action to pre-empt such humanitarian crises can prevent the emergence of failed and failing states with all the international instability which history teaches us can flow from them.
Pre-emption is a reality in today’s world. We must always be sure to use it wisely and within the limits of international law. But international law must recognise the realities of the world we live in.
It is also because of the threat of terrorism that we have a national interest in international peace and prosperity. Although one should always be very careful of a simplistic connection between terrorism and deprivation, it is reasonable to assume that the greater the extent to which the world is a peaceful and prosperous place, the less fuel there is likely to be for international terrorism.
One of the best ways of encouraging world-wide prosperity is to encourage free trade.
Ancient Athens prided itself on its openness, its international markets and its capacity for adaptation. In Ancient Greek, the verb “to trade”, katalussein, also meant “to turn a stranger into a friend.”
Trade also provides us with a whole range of goods and services, some absolutely vital to maintain the security of our country. One obvious example is food. Another is energy, particularly oil and gas. And, of course, there are others.
For international trade we need to encourage free enterprise. There is no better system for spreading the fruits of man’s labour to many than free enterprise. No better system to lift people out of poverty. No better system to advance human achievement.
I agree with President Bush that the promotion of democratic values across the world is a worthy and important goal. Those values are not just about elections and the democratic institutions which flow from them. They are also about the broader shared human values which underpin them. The right to representative governance is a human value which is not necessarily only found in western democratic models. The basic rights of free speech, of gender equality, of property, of religious freedom and of equality before the law are all human values which can and should be universally acceptable in a modern world. Indeed the common thread behind them all should be the Rule of Law.
In terms of democratic institutions, different countries from China to the Gulf will develop at different speeds. What is important is that we work to establish together those basic human values which are part of the democratic concept but which do not necessarily need fully fledged western style democratic institutions to be applied.
So this, in summary, is a statement of our principal objectives.
The question which then arises is: how do we achieve them? There is no doubt at all that we are potentially in a position of great influence. We are the fourth biggest economy in the world. We are capable of deploying limited but formidable military force.
We are, uniquely, a member of the Security Council of the United Nations, of the European Union, of NATO, of the G8 and of the Commonwealth – the latter, a potential global resource which I believe is enormously under used.
I set out my views on our relationship with the European Union in a speech I made in
Berlin earlier this year. I do not intend to repeat these remarks this evening.
But there is no doubt that we are capable of playing a significant part in the world’s affairs – both to protect and advance our national interests and as a force for good in the world. The question is: are we making the most of that influence?
There is an abundance of evidence to suggest that we are not. It is possible to take more than one view about the extent to which you should disagree in public with your closest allies. But public harmony must be accompanied by private candour if this influence is to be maximised. So far as the current Prime Minister is concerned, we have unprecedented first-hand testimony from his own Ambassadors about the extent to which he has failed to use this influence.
On Iraq, Sir Christopher Meyer has said that the Prime Minister had – and I quote – “failed to get our views into the [US] Administration and adopted on how you handle Iraq after Saddam Hussein.” Sir Christopher went on to say that “the
Downing Street mantra was always total support in public and total candour in private. Well” – and these are his words – “we have had as near to damn it total support in public but I don’t think we have always had enough candour in private.”
Sir Stephen Wall, another of the Prime Minister’s Ambassadors, had this to say after a meeting between Mr. Blair and President Chirac over reform of EU finances and of the CAP. “There were times” Sir Stephen said “when I wished there had been some Thatcherite genes that would have made [Mr. Blair] swing some metaphorical handbags”.
This falls some way short of a ringing endorsement of the willingness of the Prime Minister to make the most of the influence which this country is undoubtedly capable of exerting.
Nowhere is this more clear than over events in Iraq.
As I have said time and again, I believe it was right to go to war. Saddam Hussein was in flagrant breach of the United Nations’ resolutions. He had provoked two wars in the Gulf. He had used chemical weapons against other nations and against his own people. No one knew if and when he would get his hands on more weapons of mass destruction. I have no doubt: the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein. I read what President Chirac has said. I don’t agree.
I still think it was right to go to war. But I also think it’s my right – and my duty – to criticise the Prime Minister where he has done the wrong thing.
I have two specific criticisms to make. And I make those criticisms because I believe both of his mistakes could have grave consequences for the future conduct of British foreign policy under this Prime Minister.
First, in the run-up to the war, I am afraid that Tony Blair did not give a truthful account of the intelligence he had received. I have made my views on this clear elsewhere and I don’t intend to repeat them this afternoon.
Second, Britain should have ensured that there were plans in place for post war
Iraq. Michael Ancram kept pressing the Foreign Secretary on this very point. We now know there were none – despite the Prime Minister’s assurances that plans were “in hand”.
There should have been plans for Iraq’s own security forces to play from the start a greater role in securing public order. Instead, they were dismantled. There should have been plans to prevent insurgency from gaining a foothold. There should have been plans to give post-Saddam Iraq employment and hope rather than despair and a ready excuse for hostility. In each case there were no plans. That has made the job of bringing peace, stability and democracy to Iraq much more difficult.
The lack of a coherent post-Saddam Hussein plan, and the rapid collapse of Ba’athist authority in Iraq, created a vacuum. Insurgency has spread, and thousands of anti-Western militants have crossed the borders into Iraq to join in – exploiting unemployment, despair and the lack of adequate security.
There are many uncertainties ahead. What new threats are posed by the insurgents? Will it be possible to hold next January’s election across the whole of the country? What will the results bring? Can the religious rivalries be held in check?
We need an action plan.
First, local democracy. It is more than likely that the Constituent Assembly, elected in January, will be Shia dominated. The danger could come from the Sunnis feeling excluded from the political process. This is something that should be addressed. One way forward would be for a proper structure of local democracy to be put in place at an early stage and for local elections to be held. This is likely to enhance the prospects of Sunni participation in the democratic process.
Second, it is not too early to begin serious discussions on the creation of a possible federal structure for Iraq which would ensure a substantial degree of self-determination for Sunnis in areas largely populated by them.
Third, measures against terrorism. There are two aspects of the violence in Iraq at present: domestic insurgency and terrorism fuelled by foreign fighters. While domestic measures and economic progress will help tackle insurgency, foreign terrorism must be tackled by cutting off the supply of terrorists from outside. That means a substantial increase in border security and targeted, intelligence-led raids designed to capture or kill foreign terrorists.
Fourth, we must accelerate the programme to train Iraqi police and security forces. And we may need to pay them more. They know the neighbourhoods. And they can work more easily with the local community.
Fifth, an effective job creation programme. Much more direct international aid and investment are needed for job creation programmes, organised under the direction of the Iraqi Government. Job creation programmes should concentrate on labour-intensive, infrastructure programmes – such as paving roads, clearing rubbish, rebuilding the sewer system, bringing in street lighting. These bring highly visible improvements to the quality of life.
This is a comprehensive programme which will, over time, make a significant contribution to achieve the objectives in Iraq which I wholly share with the Government. A free and stable Iraq is in the interest of Iraq itself, of the region and also of ourselves.
The Middle East
Nothing in the Middle East is unaffected by the Israeli-Palestinian dispute – now brought into even sharper focus by the death of Yasser Arafat.
This dispute remains one of the most intractable international conflicts in the world. It is the key to understanding much of the underlying tension in the Middle East. It is the unavoidable backdrop to events elsewhere in the region. Its effective resolution is an indispensable element to any overall regional settlement.
It is in many ways a unique tragedy. Unique because, for all its difficulties, the solution that will eventually be reached can already be identified. Sooner or later, peace will be made on a basis similar to that which was so nearly accepted at Taba almost four years ago.
Taba may not have provided all the answers but it showed, that flexibility and accommodation on previous seemingly intractable problems are possible.
The question that remains unanswered is: how many more people, on both sides, have to die before that proposal proves acceptable? Ultimately this will not happen until a modicum of trust is established between the two sides. But meanwhile the world should not simply look on as an interested but helpless bystander.
The Conservative Party supports the Road Map to peace in the Middle East. In government we would make every possible contribution towards the implementation of a peace settlement. The death of Yasser Arafat presents an opportunity for the Palestinian leadership to return to the negotiating table.
I am a realist and I do not underestimate the great difficulties. But I am also an optimist. Disputes which once seemed totally intractable have been solved. Enmities that had seemed for ever irreconcilable have eased. Conflict can be converted to co-operation. We have seen it in most notably in South Africa. We are seeing it in Northern Ireland.
I hope those on both sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians, will draw what lessons they can from the way these conflicts were resolved. The simplest things are often the truest.
There has to be trust. So it is important that people get to know one another personally. Personal chemistry matters. That is how you build trust.
Negotiations can often be painful. But never as painful as the deaths of innocent people. But that requires an act of will.
One of the reasons for success in South Africa was that the negotiations were all-inclusive, involving all parties. In that way, the solutions were owned by all.
The other great lesson from South Africa is that each side had a leader, Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk, who had the stature to deliver what they promised.
We have a strong President in the White House, confirmed in office by a convincing election victory. There is an Israeli Prime Minister who has shown himself able to take tough decisions. And there may now be a new Palestinian leadership emerging after their January elections.
The world is crying out for strong leadership in pursuit of peace.
I would like to make two suggestions. Firstly, I would encourage President Bush to consider appointing a senior and powerful American figure with the authority and influence to create the momentum and commitment needed to bring the two sides together and to keep them talking. I see such a figure performing, albeit on a much larger stage, the same sort of facilitating role which Senator George Mitchell successfully provided some years ago in
Secondly, I would like to see discussions beginning to provide acceptable international security support in Gaza and eventually the West Bank too, to help the Palestinian Authority provide and maintain public order and counter-terrorism assistance as the Israelis withdraw.
The peace process will of course ultimately be a matter for the two sides themselves.
America and Europe can however help to create and maintain the best environment in which that process can be taken forward.
American European relations
We are also not short of some international tensions nearer home. They are of a quite different order, but nevertheless of enormous significance.
In the events leading up to, and in the aftermath of, the war in Iraq serious tensions have arisen between the United States and some European countries. I understand those. But I very much regret them. Even before the Iraq war, I was becoming increasingly concerned about a growing rift. That is why, when I was on the back benches, I established the non-partisan Atlantic Partnership, a think-tank which seeks to promote close relationships between Europeans and Americans.
One of my worries is that for some people, the main motive for greater political union in Europe is to establish a rival to the United States. I don’t want rivalry. I want partnership.
Let me share with you one of the specific things which concerns me: how we best handle our relations with China today.
China is now becoming a major economic power. Goldman Sachs has predicted that by 2050 China will be the world’s largest economy.
China’s economic rise in the twenty-first century could be as significant as the arrival of the US on the global scene in the nineteenth century. Tomorrow’s “world economic order” will be very different from today’s “world economic order”.
We should not underestimate the enormous contribution that China has made in the last decade in reducing world poverty. The biggest reduction in poverty the world has ever seen.
Trade with an increasingly prosperous China is, therefore, very important and welcome. And it explains why there are some within the EU, notably France, who want to lift the arms embargo against